Last November, the FBI state that hate crimes in the U.S. reached their highest level in more than a decade, with 7,314 such offenses reported for 2019. Upon reading the headlines, it seems like a new one happens somewhere every day.
States and counties are reacting by changing their laws and policing policies to combat hate crimes. Texas is no exception, having recently updated and expanded the scope of its hate crime laws. Below, we’ll discuss what exactly a hate crime is in Texas, how a hate crime is punished, and what someone charged with a hate crime should do.
When Does a Crime Become a Hate Crime in Texas?
Clearly, not all crimes are hate crimes. An important misconception people have about hate crimes, though, is that they include any criminal offense that involves someone belonging to a minority group.
Fortunately, it takes much more than the alleged victim’s identity to define a hate crime. In fact, hate crimes are those where the offender’s intent is alleged to be prejudiced. In other words, someone committed a criminal offense because of prejudice or bias against a protected minority group.
Texas recognizes the following traits as those protected by hate crime laws:
- Skin Color
- National Origin
- Sexual Orientation
If you are accused of a crime and said to have been motivated by a prejudice against a trait like one of those listed above, you may be charged with a hate crime. Keep in mind that the alleged victim doesn’t even need to be a member of a protected minority. If it’s believed a crime was motivated by prejudice, a hate crime charge can follow.
Hate Crime Penalties in Texas
The way hate crimes are prosecuted is a little different than most people might expect. To begin with, not all crimes can be considered hate crimes – only those committed against a person, graffiti, arson, or criminal mischief. If a charge doesn’t fall into any of these categories, it probably won’t be prosecuted as a hate crime. As an example, petty theft will likely not be charged as a hate crime.
What to Do If You Are Charged with a Hate Crime
If you are charged with a hate crime, immediately stop talking to police officers and investigators. These individuals are only interested in collecting information that can prove their hypothesis that you committed a crime and did so out of prejudice.
You must also contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Immediately request to speak with your lawyer upon your arrest and invoke your right to remain silent afterward. Once you have obtained legal counsel, follow your attorney’s advice and instructions to avoid self-incrimination.
Lastly, don’t attempt to contact the alleged victim. Trying to get them to change their story or drop the charges can be interpreted as intimidation or interfering with the investigation, which can result in additional criminal charges that may be more easily proven.
In summary: Invoke your right to remain silent and request legal counsel as soon as possible. Doing these two simple things may be able to help you avoid the consequences of a crime you never committed.